Teaching objectives of China’s modern and contemporary history basic knowledge



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Teaching objectives of China’s modern and contemporary history basic knowledge

The teaching of China’s modern and contemporary history should aim at teaching students the following basic knowledge:


[Part 1: The Self-Strengthening Movement and the 1898 Reforms]
The Modern Section

From the outbreak of the Opium War in 1840 to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Chinese modern history was that of a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. The contradictions within modern Chinese society were always between China and foreign capitalism, which was the major contradiction, and between feudalism and the masses of people.


China’s modern history was the humiliating history of the country’s progressive degeneration into the status of a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society and the history of the Chinese people’s unflinching and persistent struggle to change this degrading situation. At the same time, it was the history of various endeavors by the progressives of the country to save the nation. After repeated struggles and defeats, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led the people of the entire country to a final victory in the new democratic revolution under the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. This period of modern history also witnessed the birth and slow development of China’s modern industry, science and technology, and national capitalism.
1. During the first half of the nineteenth century, under the rule of the Qing dynasty, China was at the final stage of feudalism. The country was beset with internal crises, while Western capitalist countries were intensifying their expansions overseas. In 1840, Britain invaded China by launching the Opium Wars, and forced the Qing government to sign the Nanjing Treaty. The Opium Wars marked the beginning of China’s modern history and its gradual degeneration into a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. With the outbreak of the second Opium War during the latter half of the nineteenth century, China suffered great losses of territory and sovereignty, which entrenched China more deeply in semi-colonialism. … The self-sufficient natural economy of China began to collapse.
After the Opium Wars, the Chinese people shouldered the dual revolutionary task of fighting both external invasion and internal feudal rule. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom led by Hong Xiuquan was the first peasant uprising against feudalism and foreign invasion. It dealt a severe blow at both internal and external reactionary forces. Owing to the inherent limitations of the peasantry and the suppression carried out by joint foreign and domestic reactionary forces, the rebellion failed.
In the course of the Opium Wars, new thinking about “learning from the West” began to emerge among intellectuals within the landlord class. Lin Zexu and others looked toward the outside world and advocated the “mastery of foreign skills in order to defeat the foreigners.”
2. In the early 1860s, the … Empress Dowager Cixi seized supreme power through a coup. Henceforth, the Chinese reactionary forces began to work openly in collusion with their foreign counterparts.
Beset with both internal and external contradictions, the Westernization group within the ruling class launched the Self-Strengthening Movement, calling for “self-strengthening” and “seeking (national) wealth.” Even though this movement was unable to guide China onto the path of power and prosperity, it led to the importation of some modern industry, science, and technology, thus effectively encouraging the development of Chinese capitalism.
During the 1840s and 1850s, the emergence of the Chinese proletariat preceded that of the Chinese national bourgeoisie. In the 1860s and 1870s, capitalistic national industry and the national bourgeoisie began emerging, resulting in new changes in the societal and economic modes and in class structure.
After the 1870s, foreign powers accelerated their encroachment upon China, and new crises occurred along the border areas. As a result of the Sino-French War and the Sino-Japanese War, China lost more territory and sovereignty, and sank more deeply into semi-colonialism.
Following the Sino-Japanese War, some new industries were introduced into China. National capitalism enjoyed some development and emerged as a new political force on the stage of history. During the 1890s, bourgeois reformist thinking began to spread.
At the turn of the century, the major world capitalist countries were in transition to imperialism. Besides increasing the export of capital, they also forcibly occupied their leased zones in China, carved out their “spheres of influence,” and stirred up a frenzied wave of partitioning in China. America advocated the “Open Door Policy,” which, to a certain extent, brought about a situation in which the imperialist powers jointly carved up China.
Confronted with this unprecedented national crisis, the reform faction represented by Kang Youwei launched the Reform Movement to save the nation from perishing. Because of the strengths of the joint reactionary forces and the lack of a mass base, this Reform Movement failed. It nevertheless brought enlightenment thinking to society and facilitated the spread of bourgeois thought and culture, thereby stirring up a new wave of thought liberation in modern China.
The Boxer Uprising was a massive anti-imperialist patriotic peasant movement. It defeated the schemes of imperialist powers to partition China. The invasion of the allied forces of Western powers brought catastrophe to the Chinese people, and the signing of the Boxer Protocol plunged China into the abyss of semi-colonialism and semi-feudalism.

Source: Department for Basic Education of the State Education Commission, People’s Republic of China. Published in Chinese Education & Society, November/December, 1999, as “History Teaching Guidelines for Full-Time Standard Senior High Schools (Trial Edition).” Retrieved May 28, 2011, from Academic Search Complete.

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